Slowing Down

Tonight we ate the last of the Tcho chocolate. 1 oz each, 10+ minutes of pure deliciousness! Yes, it really took us that long, maybe more, to eat an ounce of chocolate. This is a new concept for me, and I’m loving it! You see, Saturday we visited the Tcho chocolate factory at Pier 17. It was organized by the CUESA for the volunteers. So a troop of us lined up, hair net and all to visit the factory and of course taste some delicious chocolate!

The tour
The tour was fabulous. Meb, a fellow volunteer who also works for Tcho, gave us a talk about the history of chocolate, what it is, isn’t, the productions techniques, etc. She also talked about what Tcho does to help the farmers they are dealing with by providing them with the equipment and the knowledge they need to produce better more profitable chocolate. I am a food nerd, so I knew it would interest me but I have to say I was impressed with Meb’s presentation. I learned a lot!

Obviously the smells in the factory are swoon-worthy. Walking by all that chocolate and not being permitted to steal any borders on the verge of torture. Ok, it’s not water-boarding, but it’s MEAN!

Tasting the goodness
After we came out of the production part of the building, we shed our beautiful hair nets (that could be the next trend!) and eagerly walked toward the tasting area.

Now I have mentioned before that I tend to eat very fast, probably faster than anybody I know. I refer to myself as a vacuum eater and slowing down has been my battle of the last 10 years. I walked in the tasting area feeling slightly self conscious and kept reminding myself “don’t just gobble it up”, “take your time”, and looking around for some cues on how to proceed.

There was no need to worry because Meb gave us a lesson on how to really taste and enjoy chocolate. It was SO FUN!

  • Smell it.
  • Warm it up a little in your hands (if it’s good quality, it won’t melt right away).
  • Bring it to your ear and break it, it should make a sharp snapping sound.
  • Put a piece in your mouth and let it melt slowly (chewing it brings out the bitterness).
  • Notice the nuances in flavors as the chocolate slowly melts.

It was the best chocolate I had ever experienced! The taste kept changing as it melted and the complexities of the taste became really evident as we tasted different chocolates. Before this, I would have said that chocolate tastes like… chocolate. Dark chocolate is sharper, a little bitter and milk chocolate is creamier and much sweeter. Now I can tell you that there’s a dark chocolate that has nutty undertones, one that is almost sour, and that the 99% cacao will traumatize your mouth!

Sharing the lesson
I bought my 3 favorites to share the experience with my husband. I was so excited to have him experience what I had! When we tasted the first piece, he did what we’ve always done, throw it in his mouth and start chewing.

“Wait! You’re doing it all wrong!”
“I’m eating chocolate wrong?”
“Yes you are! You are eating too fast.”
“I’m eating too fast? You are telling me that?”

Did I mention that if I’m vacuum eater, my husband takes forever to eat? It’s been a subject of discussion off and on over the years. The whole situation was pretty funny. I proceeded to explain to him what I had learned and he tried it “my way”. It was fun to see him realize what I was talking about.

It took us 3 days to eat 6 oz of chocolate between the two of us. That in itself is an achievement, but we (at least I) have learned an important lesson. Slowing down isn’t a punishment, it’s a gift!

Slowing down isn’t just about weight
I’ve always tried to force myself to eat slower because I know that it takes 20 minutes for my stomach to tell my brain “Ok, I’ve had enough now, stop calling for food.” I can shovel in a lot of food in 20 minutes at the speed I’m eating. Eating slower has always been a way to curb overeating.

All of us who have dealt with weight issues have had that experience of eating one chip, and then realizing you’re at the end of the bag without really tasting anything in between. Sometimes without even realizing that we ate the middle of it too! Slowing down our eating certainly helps us keep that mindless eating at bay. Making a conscious effort means we are more aware, right there that makes a difference.

There is more to it than that though. Chocolate isn’t just chocolate, same as coffee isn’t just coffee. You can have a waxy chocolate bar that doesn’t taste like anything (try spending 10 minutes on an ounce of that and see how it tastes) or you can have the real thing from a quality chocolate maker. Thing is, if you gobble it up really fast you will never taste the difference. It’s the same thing as someone who reads real fast, you see the beginning and the end, and your brain fills the blanks. If you eat super fast, your brain goes “yup, that’s chocolate” and fills up the blanks by sending you the “chocolate taste signal” because you’re eating too fast for your taste buds to do their job. If you take your time every part of the process have time to do their job, send the right messages, and you really, truly can experience what food really taste like.

Tonight I cooked carrots in a foil packet with dried lemon, thyme and garlic for the first time. Taking my time while I was eating, I discovered that the carrots were roasted just perfectly, that the thyme was fresh. I detected a hint of the lemon, and realized that I need to buy new garlic, mine is getting old.

It’s more than just slow down so that you don’t overeat, it’s slow down and pay attention to every single thing you are eating. The complexities of everything we are eating are there for use to experience, we just have to give ourselves time to take it in. To me it’s a whole new way of thinking about what I eat. A new food adventure!

Now I go make my list for the Farmer’s Market tomorrow. First on my list: Garlic!

Training too much? Me?

I’ve always been a big believer in the Inertia law: “A body in motion tends to remain in motion; A body on the couch isn’t going anywhere.”

For years I have embodied both sides of that deal. I’ve had long periods of regular activity, and equally long periods of couch time. As I was ready to finish my certification and begin my career as a personal trainer this summer, I decided that couch time was over for good. I would just keep training no matter what!

I did well too! I lifted weights regularly, I trained for and ran my very first 5K, I did a boot camp twice a week followed by a swimming workout. I had a lot of fun really… until the last week of August.

The previous week I was particularly tired, I did have trouble sleeping and decided that it was nothing to worry about, I would just pull through it. My hip was also sore a lot, which was new, but I had added uphills to my runs, so I figured I was adapting to the new terrain. I pushed through the week, telling myself that next week was to be better. How wrong can one be?

Monday morning, I dragged myself almost walking backward to the gym, I didn’t want to, my knee was hurting for the first time in months, I hadn’t slept right I just felt like a mess. Halfway into my workout I just walked out and went home. I didn’t run that day, I felt like walking was just too much. Tuesday, I skipped boot camp. I just couldn’t get up, I was hurting again, but more than anything I was sick of it. I didn’t want to work out. Finally Thursday I dragged myself to boot camp and realized that I physically could not keep up. I didn’t not have the energy to do the workout, I did about half of it, hating every second of it. Afterward sitting in the car I realized that the very thought of going for a swim was making me feel nauseous.

WTF? I absolutely love to swim! It’s not a workout to me, it’s moving meditation. As I sat in the car, everything around me seemed to close in. “I can’t keep up, I can’t work out, I’ll never be a trainer, I can’t even train myself!” I just sat in the car crying, total melt down. Sometimes letting it out is needed I guess, I don’t know that the parking lot at Crissy Field is the ideal place but… Finally I calmed down, drove home sniffling, and sat back down to study.  As it turned out, the chapter I was starting talked about over training.  Isn’t it funny how things happen sometimes?

What is over training? 
Basically over training is something that “commonly occurs in athletes or fitness enthusiasts who are training beyond the body’s ability to recover” (NASM Essential Personal Fitness Training Manual p. 286). I like that description because it really seems to encompass all the factors at play in what happens there. It answers this simple question: How come athletes who train for the Olympics train 6-7 days/week at a lot higher intensity than I do, and yet they don’t end up sitting in their car at Crissy Fields crying their eyes out? Because their body have a recovery capacity that far out perform my own. Duh! right? Well yeah, but there is more to it than that.

Athletes do over train sometimes, and funny enough, so do beginners! For competitive athletes, it’s easy to understand that with a lifetime of achievement being at stake, it’s easy to lose one’s focus and to overdo it in the hope of bringing greater results. It’s not wise, but it’s understandable. Every Olympics we see a few examples of athletes who had great potential, but show up for the games burned out from their training and sadly crash during competition.

Ok, athletes I get, but newbies like me? Really?
It’s not so easy to understand how somebody who’s just getting started could over train.  I think there are two sides to this:

First, we tend to want to start training today and see results yesterday. We watch the biggest loser, and other such fantasy shows and think we can just go from hours on the couch to hitting the gym for hours every day, and go from flab to fab in a nano second. The problem with that is that the body recovers during rest, the more work is imposed on the body, the more rest it needs. Of course, the better conditioned the body is, the faster it can recover, needing a shorter rest period for a bigger training volume (but rest is always needed!). When you hit the gym for the first time in 10-15-20 years, your ability to recover is on slow motion for a while. The idea is to start slow, give the body sufficient rest time, and progressively increase the training volume as you become more conditioned. The same is true when you start a new sport since you are often working new muscles, or working them differently, and your body needs time to condition itself to the new pattern of movement to improve its recovery ability.

The other side of this issue is that we “know” that to lose weight starvation is required (please note the sarcasm in here). Unfortunately, starvation and training do not go well together. Truth is that you have to eat to lose weight, and that to work out, your body needs fuel (carbs, proteins, fats, a slew of nutrients) to keep going, and help recovery. Oh wait! There’s that word again, recover!

Insufficient food intake inhibits the body’s ability to perform (because it doesn’t have the fuel to power up) and to recover, making over training more likely.  There is a fine line between eating little enough to lose weight, but enough to be able to power through one’s work outs. Sometimes that line is hard to find because really, it’s in a different spot for everybody. The bottom line is that you will not be able to eat little enough to lose 2-3 lbs/week, and still have enough fuel to power through a high intensity work out every day and recover fast enough to keep the pace without feeling the symptoms of over training. Balance is the key, and having a clear view of your goals.

What to look for?
As I am writing this I realize that in mid August I decided to lose a few lbs because I thought it would make me look more “like a trainer”. So I added to my work outs, and cut down my food intake. Oops! Vanity is a b…There are tons of factors that can make a difference in your ability to recover. Sleep is certainly one of them, stress level is another. The best way to keep yourself from over doing it, and maximize your body’s ability to recover is to make sure you eat enough varied healthy foods , that you build your work out volume progressively, and that you remember that rest is a huge part of working out.

Here are some the symptoms that might be a clue that you are over training;

  • Decreased performance
  • Fatigue
  • Altered hormonal states
  • Poor sleeping patterns
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Decreased immunity
  • Loss of appetite (if only!)
  • Mood disturbances
  • Lack of enthusiasm for training (abnormal lack of enthusiasm that is)
  • Altered immune system ability
  • Altered resting heart rate
  • Pain/ongoing soreness

So what do I do?
What do you do if you suspect that you might be over training? First, check with your doctor to make sure it is not something more serious, you can never be too safe! Then, take a few days off from training, see how that helps. I do mean days off, not “oh I’m getting burned out from running so I’ll swim for a few days” (not that such thoughts would ever occur to me…:oD). More importantly, take a good look at your training routine, your food log and your sleeping patterns, and make the necessary adjustment so that it doesn’t happen again.

Lets not confuse the soreness of a new routine with over training. Those are two different issues, the first week or two you are supposed to be sore, but weeks into it if you still are abnormally sore, tired, if it affects your every day life, then it’s time to think about it. Of course, chances are that you are either not eating enough in general, not eating enough of certain nutrients (cutting the carbs too much?) or need more sleep. There’s also the possibility that you have been too ambitious in your work out planning and need to step it back a little. It’s ok, don’t worry! You will get there, you just can’t run before you learn how to walk right?

Nobody said it would be easy, but I’m saying it can be so much fun!!

NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training

Word matters

Summer is starting to wane and the fall routine is falling into place. For me the change of season is always a time to look back, take stock and look forward. I find myself looking back at the summer with a very critical eye. Physically I am not in the shape that I want to be. At this time of the year I was hoping to be stronger, faster and about 5 pounds lighter than I am now. My studying, like my training hasn’t gone nearly as smoothly as I wanted it to go. All in all I feel like I spent more time beating myself up about what I was doing wrong this summer than I did doing them right.

Yesterday I sat down and made a list of things I wanted to do differently this fall:

  • I should run more
  • I should lift heavier weights
  • I should lift more often
  • I should get back to swimming
  • I should plan my meals
  • I should avoid junk and processed foods
  • I should cook 90% of my meals
  • I should study better

Today that list is making me feel like I am not doing anything right. “I should run more” implies “I’m not running enough”; “I should lift heavier weights” implies “I’m not lifting heavy enough” and so on. I spent the entire summer beating myself up and all I got out of it was to lose my motivation. If I can’t do anything right why bother? On the other hand, I need to improve on those things. I understand the importance of being kind to myself, but I don’t think it should mean to sell myself short. I CAN do better than this summer and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t do it.

So how can I strive to do well this fall, and not sell myself short without ending up feeling like failure in the process? I think the key is in how I present things to myself. I’m a big believer in the power of words. I think they do make a huge difference and that the beginning of success, and happiness, lies in how I talk to myself. In this case, to me, there is a real difference between “I should” and “I can”. “I should” implies that I don’t. “I should be stronger” implies “I am not strong enough” but “I can be stronger” implies that the possibility for improvement is there. Isn’t it always?

I very sincerely believe this simple formula: What you say dictates what you think (even if you convince yourself that you are just “kidding”), what you think dictates what you believe, what you believe dictates your actions and of course, your actions dictate your results. The first step to a healthy mind and body is to adopt a positive way of wording our desires, goals and how we talk about ourselves.

I had a challenging summer in many ways, and yet I managed to run my very first 5K race! I kept training through the whole summer even doing boot camps for the first time. I studied consistently through the summer, and worked through the setbacks one after another. My summer was not perfect, but it wasn’t a failure at all either. Fall is almost here and things are settling down so I’m ready to step it up! So how can I rewrite that list?

  • I can add to my running
  • I can lift heavier weights
  • I can lift add a weight lifting session to my week
  • I can add swimming to my routine
  • I can plan my meals
  • I can limit junk and processed foods
  • I can cook 90% of my meals
  • I can focus on my study

Doesn’t that sound better? It sure does to me! I can do all those things and I will do them! What is done is done, I cannot go back and redo my summer. I can however learn from it, appreciate the victories as well as the lessons, and move on to a strong, motivating fall. I’m ready!